15 New York Yankees Fighting for Roster Spots in Spring Training
If you’re one of the many players in a major league spring training camp, whether a young player on the 40-man roster or a veteran or kid who scored an invitation to the big club’s camp, the battle to earn one of those coveted opening-day roster spots can be harder with some teams than it is with others.
Case in point is the New York Yankees. A veteran club with many spots already locked up, barring injury or some sort of catastrophic drop-off in performance, making the Yankees is a tough proposition.
According to mlbdepthcharts.com, the projected 25-man roster for the Yankees includes:
Three players currently on the 40-man roster will likely start the season on the disabled list. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez is out until at least June after hip surgery and was placed on the 60-day disabled list on Wednesday. Pitcher Michael Pineda is coming back from shoulder surgery last May and won’t return until June at the earliest and pitcher Manny Banuelos underwent Tommy John surgery in October and is out for the season.
With that, there are still 15 players either on the 40-man roster or invited to camp who have at least an outside shot of earning a roster spot with an outstanding showing this spring in Tampa, Fla. Here are those players, in alphabetical order.
CF, age 23, 6’0”, 205 lbs, bats both, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Signed July 2, 2005, as a non-drafted free agent out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 78
Zoilo Almonte hit .277/.322/.487 in 451 plate appearances for Trenton in Double-A last season, with 21 homers and 70 RBI. Almonte showed a propensity for striking out, whiffing 103 times in 419 at-bats while drawing just 25 walks.
Almonte is a switch-hitting prospect with power potential, but he’s unlikely to crack the roster this season.
He would have to beat out either Brett Gardner or Curtis Granderson—depending on which of those players manager Joe Girardi decides to deploy in center field—for a starting nod. His development would be better served in 2013 by getting regular playing time in the minors rather than occasional play in the show.
RHP, age 24, 6’8”, 260 lbs, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Eighth round, 2006 Amateur Draft, out of Grand Street High School in New York
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 68
Dellin Betances split last season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
He made 10 starts and one relief appearance for Trenton and was 3-4 with a 6.51 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in 56.2 innings, with 41 walks and just 30 strikeouts. With Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Betances was 3-5 with a 6.39 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 74.2 innings over 16 starts. He walked 69 and struck out 71.
Last season was a huge step backwards for Betances, who came into 2012 ranked as the No. 63 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and No. 41 on MLB.com’s list of top prospects. After making two appearances, including one start, for the Yankees in 2011, Betances did not get a September call-up after his ghastly 2012 campaign.
He followed that up with an unremarkable showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he was 1-3 with a 5.25 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in eight relief appearances. In 12 innings, he walked four and struck out 15.
Betances is unlikely to crack the starting rotation for the Yankees. His focus for 2013 should be to return to the form that earned him such lofty ratings (No. 43 by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season) earlier in his career.
LHP, age 24, 6’3”, 250 lbs, bats left, throws left
Acquired by Yankees: Selected from Boston Red Sox in Rule V Draft, Dec. 8, 2011
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 71
Cesar Cabral missed all of the 2012 season after suffering a stress fracture in the tip of his elbow during spring training last year.
Manager Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog that Cabral had a shot at making the roster last year.
“It’s frustrating because he had a really good camp for us,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you what was going to happen, but he had a good camp for us.”
Cabral was making a solid case for a spot in the bullpen. He struck out 12 hitters and walked just two while battling Clay Rapada for the role of second left-handed reliever last spring.
While mlbdepthcharts.com projects Cabral to fall short of earning a roster spot this spring, it’s worth pointing out that if the Cabral is not on the 25-man roster coming out of camp, he would have to be returned to the Red Sox. However, he would not have to spend the entire year with the big club; he could be optioned to the minors after 60 days on the roster without being subject to being returned to Boston.
His last season with the Red Sox organization was 2011, during which he split the year between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland. In 12 appearances with Salem, Cabral was 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA and 1.20 WHIP while earning eight saves in 16.2 innings. He walked five and struck out 24. With Portland, Cabral did not close, earning one save in 24 appearances while going 2-4 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. He walked 16 and fanned 46 in 38.1 innings.
RHP, age 27, 6’5”, 205 lbs, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Claimed off waivers from Texas Rangers, April 5, 2012
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 38
Cody Eppley spent most of last season in the Yankee bullpen, making 59 appearances with a 1-2 record, 3.33 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 46 innings. Eppley, a side-armer, walked 17 and struck out 32.
Eppley was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when David Robertson went on the disabled list last May. In seven appearances in Triple-A, Eppley saved two games and was not scored upon. He posted a 0.43 WHIP with one walk and 13 strikeouts in 9.1 innings.
But Eppley appears to be on the wrong end of a numbers game this spring. With Joba Chamberlain back fully healthy for the first time since 2010, Eppley’s middle-relief spot would appear to be in jeopardy. Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog reported last week that Eppley was one of several players in camp who still has minor-league options, so if he doesn’t earn a spot, he could be sent to Triple-A without having to clear waivers.
1B, age 32, 6’2”, 210 lbs, bats left, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Signed as a free agent from Chicago White Sox, Jan. 24, 2013
Status: Non-roster invitee, wears No. 27.
Dan Johnson spent most of last season playing for the Chicago White Sox's Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, where he hit .267/.388/.492 with 28 homers and 85 RBI in 587 plate appearances. Johnson is one of those players known as a AAAA player—he dominates Triple-A pitching but never seems able to have sustained success in the majors.
In 14 games with the White Sox last season, Johnson hit .364/.548/.818 in 31 plate appearances, belting three homers and posting six RBI. But his last season as a regular in the majors was in 2007 with the Oakland Athletics, and any hopes Johnson had of breaking camp with the Yankees likely evaporated when Travis Hafner was signed on Jan. 31.
Johnson was signed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, so it appears likely he will be returning to Triple-A yet again.
2B, age 24, 6’0”, 180, bats left, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Selected in the fourth round, 2008 Amateur Draft out of Franklin High School in Franklin, Tenn.
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 77
Corban Joseph split 2012 between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With Trenton, Joseph hit .314/.412/.430 with two homers and six RBI in 102 plate appearances, and in Triple-A, he hit .266/.366/.474 with 13 homers and 56 RBI in 386 trips to the plate.
Joseph is in the mix for a utility infielder job this spring. Hunter Farman of the Yanks Go Yard blog at SI.com wrote Thursday morning that the job is Joseph’s to lose in a battle with Eduardo Nunez. However, it’s more likely that Joseph heads back to Triple-A this spring to wait for a phone call from the Bronx.
Kelley was 2-4 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 47 appearances for the Mariners last season. He walked 15 and struck out 45 in 44.1 innings out of the Seattle bullpen. In all, Kelley pitched for the Mariners in parts of the last four seasons, all in relief.
He started last season with the Mariners but was sent to Triple-A Tacoma after the opening series in Japan. He was brought back to the show after going 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in 14 appearances for Tacoma, saving six games. He walked four and struck out 25 in 20 innings.
Kelley will battle for a spot in middle relief but enters camp behind Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma.
Buster Olney tweeted on Thursday that Kelley does have a minor-league option left, so he could be riding the express between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Bronx this season.
Kelley has a minor league option left, so he'll give the Yankees some flexibility and could be the yo-yo guy.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 14, 2013
CF, age 26, 6’1”, 190 lbs, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Signed as an amateur free agent, July 2, 2003, out of Bajos de Haina, Dominican Republic
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 63
Melky Mesa has been around the Yankee organization for almost a decade now and made his big league debut last September. He had a single and an RBI in two plate appearances in a cup of coffee with the Yankees.
That came after splitting most of last season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mesa hit .277/.344/.464 in 369 plate appearances for Trenton, with 14 homers and 46 RBI to go with 17 stolen bases.
But Mesa didn’t hit well in Triple-A, posting a .230/.271/.524 line with nine homers and 21 RBI in 133 plate appearances. He also stole five bags but struck out 43 times with just seven walks.
The clock is ticking on Mesa to establish himself at the big-league level. It’s been a long climb through the organization, as he didn’t begin minor-league play until 2006 in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Mesa looks to be one of the losers of a numbers game in the Yankee outfield, behind more experienced right-handed bats Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, who can also fill in at first base.
RHP, age 30, 6’1”, 200 lbs, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Claimed off waivers from Oakland Athletics, Nov. 30, 2012
Status: Non-roster invitee, wears No. 43
Jim Miller split last season between the Oakland Athletics and Triple-A Sacramento. With Oakland, Miller was 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 33 relief appearances. In 48.2 innings, he walked 27 and struck out 44.
With Sacramento, Miller notched six saves and a 0-3 record in 16 appearances, with a 2.79 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. He walked four and struck out 21 in 19.1 innings.
Miller is a veteran, but he’s also a long shot to earn a middle-relief spot in the Bronx. Signed to a minor-league deal, he’s likely headed back to Triple-A yet again.
INF/OF, age 30, 5’11”, 195, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Signed as a free agent from Toronto Blue Jays, Nov. 23, 2011
Status: Non-roster invitee, wears No. 17
Jayson Nix spent most of last season in a utility role for the Yankees, playing third base, second base, shortstop and left field. He hit .243/.306/.384 with four homers and 18 RBI in 202 plate appearances, with 14 walks and 53 strikeouts.
Once a first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2001, Nix has never been anything more than a utility guy in the majors, reaching a career-high of 363 plate appearances while splitting the 2010 season between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Nix was moved off the 40-man roster in late November to make room for Mariano Rivera, according to Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog, and he was out-righted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Nix has a shot at a utility role again this year, but he is likely to be usurped by younger players such as Eduardo Nunez or Corban Joseph.
C, age 24, 6’0”, 220 lbs, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Selected in the second round, 2007 Amateur Draft, out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif.
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 66
Austin Romine lost most of 2012 to a back injury. After rehabilitating, Romine split the 2012 season between the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, High-A Tampa and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Romine hit .208/.367/.333 in 30 tune-up plate appearances in the GCL with five RBI, then hit .389/.421/.556 in 19 plate appearances for Tampa, with a solo homer thrown in. In Triple-A, Romine struggled offensively, hitting .213/.296/.393 with three homers and nine RBI in 71 plate appearances.
That followed a solid 2011 campaign for Double-A Trenton during which Romine hit .286/.351/.378 with six homers and 47 RBI in 373 plate appearances. He also had a cup of coffee with the Yankees that September, going 3-for-19 in 20 plate appearances over nine games.
Romine has a chance to win the starting catching job this spring, but general manager Brian Cashman told the New York Daily News last month that it was more likely Romine would start the year in Triple-A.
LHP, age 24, 6’1”, 160 lbs, bats left, throws left
Acquired by Yankees: Signed as amateur free agent out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 2006
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 74
Francisco Rondon rose rapidly through three levels of the farm system in 2012, moving from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton before earning a late promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Rondon didn’t allow a run in two relief appearances in Tampa, posting a 0.80 WHIP in five innings, walking two and fanning eight. For Trenton, Rondon was 5-0 with a save in 41 appearances, notching a 3.96 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 63.2 innings. He walked 39 batters and struck out 70.
In one relief appearance in Triple-A, Rondon got rocked, allowing three runs, all earned, on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts in 2.1 innings.
It took awhile for Rondon to find his rhythm, as he spent his first five professional seasons in the lower levels of the Yankee farm system. Last season, though, he made real progress—progress that appears set to continue in 2013 at the Triple-A level.
LHP, age 25, 6’1”, 190 lbs, bats left, throws left
Acquired by Yankees: Claimed off waivers from San Diego Padres, Nov. 6, 2012
Status: Non-roster invitee, wears No. 53
Josh Spence is another left-handed reliever with a chance to make the big club but more likely ticketed to Triple-A.
He split 2012 between Triple-A Tucson and the San Diego Padres. In 11 appearances as a situational lefty, Spence was 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in 10.1 innings with the Padres. He walked five and struck out 10. With Tucson, Spence was 4-2 with a 4.20 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 27 relief appearances and four starts. In 49.1 innings, Spence walked 20 and fanned 36.
Spence also made 40 appearances for San Diego in 2011, posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 29.2 innings.
RHP, age 25, 6’2”, 225 lbs, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Selected in fourth round of 2009 Amateur Draft out of the University of North Carolina
Status: 40-man roster, wears No. 61
Adam Warren made an eventful, if not successful, major league debut last June 29, earning a no-decision after surrendering six earned runs and eight hits—including a pair of homers—in just 2.1 innings against the Chicago White Sox. Warren walked two and struck out one in that appearance.
He spent most of 2012 with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Warren was 7-8 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 26 starts in Triple-A. In 152.2 innings, he walked 46 and struck out 107.
It was his second full season in Triple-A, and the results were just about the same as they were in 2011, when he was 6-8 with an ERA of 3.60 and a 1.30 WHIP in 152.1 innings.
He will be in the mix along with Ivan Nova and David Phelps for the No. 5 starter role and the long-relief spot, but he’s unlikely to earn a place on the 25-man roster without a monster spring. Otherwise, it’s back to Triple-A.
C, age 29, 6’0”, 220 lbs, bats right, throws right
Acquired by Yankees: Signed as a free agent from Toronto Blue Jays, Dec. 13, 2012
Status: Non-roster invitee, wears No. 45
Toronto let Wilson go, and the Yankees signed the catcher to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.
Wilson is a solid defensive receiver but a liability at the plate. He hit .211/.277/.292 in 201 plate appearances for the Angels last season with three homers and 13 RBI. He also spent a short stint on the disabled list last season with a concussion.
Wilson is in the mix with Austin Romine, Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli for one of the catching jobs but will have to show more at the plate to earn a spot over Stewart or Cervelli. He’s likely a coin flip to break camp in pinstripes.